The South East European (SEE) region is comprised of NATO member countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria) as well as Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYROM, Montenegro and Serbia). Opportunities and challenges related to cyber are prevalent in SEE.
Unlike the rest of the world, however, this region faces unique circumstances:
1. The dominance of the illicit goods market / transit in the SEE impacts NATO countries, PfP, Mediterranean Dialogue nations as well as key regions to the Alliance elsewhere in the world;
2. Terrorist groups increasingly interface with criminality in SEE to support their efforts;
3. Terrorism has been an enduring problem in SEE;
4. SEE and in particular FYROM, has made it a priority to increase their IT sector to achieve development goals; and
5. Political instability in the region may be mitigated by training and cooperation on cross-border issues such as terrorists’ use of cyber and technology which benefits the Alliance.
As in the rest of the world, Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) plays a crucial role in the South Eastern Europe (SEE) region. The pursuit of modernization, the quest for Euro-Atlantic integration, and the undeniable necessity of foreign direct investment urged SEE countries to invest in the development of cyber. Furthermore, this domain has become the dominant place for social, economic and political interactions in the SEE region. However, this ICT-based dynamism has brought both positive and negative effects.
The increasingly growing dependence on cyber and technology in SEE has not been matched by a parallel focus on security. Recent practices show that the cyber domain has turned into both a battle-space for modern terrorists’ ideological and informational warfare and a medium for global radicalization. Terrorist organizations and violent radical religious insurgents are using the internet and modern ICT as a tool for radicalization and recruitment, a method of propaganda, a means of communication, a mechanism for attacking other entities and a suitable ground for training.
The dynamics of the changing security environment around the globe in general and in the region of SEE in particular over the past decades have produced new adversaries to SEE stability. This has the potential to directly and indirectly affect NATO countries’ interests, security and stability. On several occasions NATO has strongly emphasized that threats from cyber and technology against NATO countries and Partners are real (NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 173 DSCFC 09 E BIS - NATO and cyber defence, NATO’s New Strategic Concept - 2010; the 2012 Chicago declaration, etc.). It is critical to note that SEE nations Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and Bulgaria are NATO members while Bosnia - Herzegovina, FYROM, Montenegro and Serbia are Partnership for Peace (PfP). Hence addressing the issue of terrorists’ use of a cyber and technology in the current security environment remains as important as ever.
These actors are a hybrid mix of terrorists, criminals, insurgents and religious extremists, as well as other non-state entities who challenge SEE stability and security. The 2011 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 2012 attack and murder of five civilians in FYROM, and the 2012 attack on the Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, along with the numerous reports of thwarted attacks or arrests (e.g., Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, etc.) all confirm that this threat is genuine. Furthermore, recent trends in active support of radical Islamic groups in Syrian resistance and growing numbers of internet-based recruitments for these supporters along with the alleged online radicalization connected to the region prior to attacks around globe, raise serious concerns over the terrorist use of cyber and technology in SEE. If this development is not addressed seriously, then the growing trend of radicalization, recruitment and attack through cyber and technology holds the potential to render SEE’s efforts to create a cyber-platform for increased development into one that becomes a breeding ground for training and launching pad for cyber-attacks on SEE, the Alliance, her partners and others.
As new developments occur every day in technology, terrorists are easily adjusting themselves to this change. In this new age of terrorism, terrorism is transnational, institutionalized, technologically advanced, and global. In this respect, today’s terrorist organizations are using cyberspace for different purposes. The Internet has become the new and main source of communication in terms of disseminating propaganda for terrorist activities.
In modern terrorism, almost all terrorist organizations are benefitting from the Internet to commit their activities such as message delivering to the masses in the frame of propaganda activities, facilitate communication, and recruit new members to their organizations, raising funds, or to train the new hired members. Multimedia sources are so vulnerable for terrorist exploitation. The Internet offers terrorists so many advantages such as: easy access; no regulation, censorship, or other forms of government control; so many audiences; anonymity of communication; fast flow of information; interactivity; inexpensive development and maintenance of a Web presence; a multimedia environment (the ability to combine text, graphics, audio, and video and to allow users to download films, songs books, posters, etc.).
The area of concern, as a consequence of Internet exploitation, has been extended not only in the domestic realm, but also additionally to transnational and international arenas. The secrecy of conducting aforementioned activities can easily be resumed by means of covered or coded methods on the Internet. Thus, a comprehensive research of Cyberspace terrorist activities ought to be analyzed.
Governments usually take legal measures to prevent the unlawful usage of the Internet by applying to the national courts. However, flexible opportunities to run a Web site by changing servers, tags, proxies, and so forth do not deter or deny terrorist organizations to exploit the Internet. Thus national and international authorities, responsible for security, can also exploit and analyze the design and the context of the pro-terrorist organizations’ Web sites to exhibit the context of the activities of the terrorist organizations.
A full cooperation and coordination of efforts are required to prevent the Internet usage of terrorist organizations. In this context, both state and non-state level cooperation must be institutionalized to create a check mechanism. Ever since terrorism and other types of transnational criminal activities have become the main topic in the international arena, the term “cooperation” has become a focal point for every government.
It is widely accepted that terrorism is a real and constant threat and no part of the world can be considered immune from it. However, by following a pro-active nature and keeping up with this evolving threat, we will become successful in overcoming it in very near future.